Motion Picture Classic, January 1931
Seldom reprinted in full since first published, but heavily mined as a source of lurid quotations attributed to Bela Lugosi, The Feminine Love of Horror originally appeared in the January 1931 issue of Motion Picture Classic. Purportedly the result of an interview with Lugosi, Glady Hall’s article resembles nothing more than a flight of fancy, by turns sensationalistic and offensive. Whatever its shortcomings and dubious authenticity, it does give us a fascinating insight into the extreme manner in which the images of Lugosi and Count Dracula were actively being fused in the public consciousness even before the February 12th premiere of Universal’s adaptation of the Deane and Balderstone play. Regardless of whether audiences of the day were so unsophisticated and naive as not to have seen this kind of overwrought nonsense for the entertaining ballyhoo that it clearly was, so identified did the actor become with his fictional alter ego that try as he may, Lugosi found it impossible to disentangle himself from Dracula, a spectre which not only dominated the rest of his life and career, but also followed him to the grave.
The Feminine Love of Horror
Have You Ever Watched A Woman Talk About Death? “Don’t!” Warns Bela Lugosi
By GLADYS HALL
“But it is women who love horror. Gloat over it. Feed on it. Are nourished by it. Shudder and cling and cry out – and come back for more. “Women have a predestination to suffering. “It is women who bear the race in bloody agony. Suffering is a kind of horror. Blood is a kind of horror. Therefore women are born with a predestination to horror in their very blood. It is a biological thing.” Thus Bela Lugosi. Thus Dracula. Thus the Horror Man, the Mystery Man of Hollywood. The tall, too-pallid man with the enormous predatory hands, the narrow, red-lit pale blue eyes, the soft, caressing voice, the atmosphere of charnel house and carnival surrounding him, a rank miasma. Bela Lugosi from Hungary – the saga of the vampire, the lore of demonology, the dark secrets of the state of trance a part of his daily life. The man who never sleeps at night. The man who lies alone in his darkened house. The man to whom no woman can stay married – why not? No answer. No answer. No answer. There are questions better not put to Bela Lugosi. There are answers better not heard. There are secrets better – much better – left interred. Does he eat food, make love, work, play, hope, struggle as other men? No answer. No answer. No answer.
Why the Women Came Back
LUGOSI sat in a deep chair in my library. (One does not go to his house!) A single light burned above him, making his pallid face more pallid, obliterating all but the red lights burning ceaselessly in his too-pale blue eyes. The windows were opened and there came the mournful sound of the wind in the tall boughs of the eucalyptus…Was it only the wind playing in the boughs of the trees…or was it…? No answer. No answer. Better not ask. His voice came, remote and far away, dying down, rising to a penetrating. He said, “When I was playing Dracula on the stage, my audiences were women. Women. There were men, too. Escorts the women had brought with them. For reasons only their dark subconscious knew. In order to establish a subtle sex intimacy. Contact. In order to cling and to feel the sensuous thrill of protection. Men did not come of their own volition. Women did. Came – and knew an ecstasy dragged from the depths of unspeakable things. Came – and then came back again. And again.” (Was there gloating in his voice? Or was it my chilled imagination playing me tricks, feverish and fantastical?) “Women wrote me letters. Ah, what letters women wrote me! Young girls, Women from seventeen to thirty. Letters of a horrible hunger. Asking me if I cared only for maiden’s blood. Asking me if I had done the play because I was in reality that sort of Thing. And through these letters, crouched in terms of shuddering, transparent fear, there ran the hideous note of – hope. “They hoped that I was Dracula. They hoped that my love was the love of Dracula. They gloated over the Thing they dared not understand. It gave them something as potent as poison, as separate from their lives as death is separate from life, “It was the embrace of Death their subconscious was yearning for. Death, the final, triumphant lover. “It made me know that the women of America are unsatisfied, famished, craving sensation, even though it be the sensation of death draining the red blood of life. “Women gloat over Death. Avidly. Morbidly. They will spend hours discussing the details of death. Over and over again. Wives will spend hours of frightful joy, telling of their husbands’ or their lovers’ last words. They will describe with macabre minutiae the death agonies, the death rattle, the awful ceremony of the mortician, the rites of the cemetery. “Have you ever watched a woman talking about death? DON’T. “It is women who crowd cemeteries, using anniversaries, the veil of sentiment, the legitimacy of grief. It is women who crouch over graves, loving them, covering them with flowers and tears. Women feed the cemeteries. Without women, the shattered vases that were our bodies would be reduced to decent ash and the ghoulish appetites of the world would be apart of folklore.
The kiss of horror: Bela Lugosi, as Dracula, the vampire, in the picturization of Bram Stoker’s great tale of the supernatural, attacks the sleeping Frances Dade. Will feminine movie-goers return to see this scene, as did feminine stage audiences?
Hypnotized by Horror
“Women will go to circuses and cast restless, unseeing eyes on clowns and trapeze artists, animals and gymnasts. They will go into the place of the Strange People, the Freaks, and stand there, mouths agape, transfixed. Back of this there is again a profound biological reason. Before a woman bears a child she goes through successive phases of horror, least the fruit of her body be a monstrous thing. “When they are looking on these ghastly distortions, they are thinking, again sub-consciously, that such horrors might have happened to them…. “During the War women fought, maneuvered, bribed and schemed to get to the front-line trenches. In their hearts, in their conscious minds, they believed that they were striving for that place in order to perform deeds of duty and mercy to their fellow-men. In order to bind their wounds and ease their last grim moments. And so they were. But mixed in with this high motive was the ghoulish compulsion to see men torn and bloody and in agony, the horrible fascination of horror, the need to look upon the suffering, which is a part of their destiny. “In the South, where there are lynchings of Negroes, women press to the front of the mob, fight and struggle when they are held back, beat their way to a position where they may see, not miss a detail, be able to retail it all again to their neighbours, less fortunate. “At executions, in the Death House, when men and women are present together, it is the men who faint, “Men evade horror. When they cannot evade it, they laugh it off, shrug amused shoulders, pretend to be unimpressed, incredulous. When there is Death, men try to get roaring drunk, close it out of their lives and minds. They feel that to succumb to horror is to belie their masculinity, their proud virility. And no man I have ever known, who was in the front-line trenches and saw the bloodiest horrors of warfare, would go back again unless physically compelled. “Women love to go to amusement parks and ride on the most sensational thrillers. Chute the chutes. Dip O’ Death. When you stand in any amusement park you can always hear the shrill, wild shrieks of women, loving the horror, the violent sensation, and with the random chance of destruction. “I have known women who, deprived of horror, created it for themselves. One woman who walked along city streets and shuddered and grew faint with fear, least the skyscrapers fall on her. She knew she was shuddering away from the almost-impossible. But the thrill she derived from that morbid fancy was necessary to her. She made horror for herself where none existed. “The great success of the pictures of Lon Chaney is further proof of the love of horror. Milk-and-water, love, April Romance, gallant adventure all fade by comparison with these grotesque human things struggling with fates as twisted and abnormal as their bodies. !It is women who attend the dark parlours of Spiritualists. Women who attend seances. Whether they believe them or mot is of little consequence. The element of horror is there. “It is women who discuss the front-page murders with a frantic particularity, devouring every morsel, hungry for more and more. “It is women who love horror. Shudder and cling and cry – and always willing to come back for more.” Thus Bela Lugosi. Thus Dracula. Thus the Horror Man, the Mystery Man of Hollywood, with the lore of demonology, the dark secrets of the state of trance a part of his daily life.
Do You Agree With Him?
“The women of America are unsatisfied, craving sensation, even though it be the sensation of death draining the red blood of life. “Women gloat over death. They will spend hours discussing the details of death…telling of their husbands’ or lovers’ last hours, dying breaths, last words. “It is women who crouch over graves, loving them, covering them with flowers and tears. “At executions, when men and women are present together, it is the men who faint. “It is women who attend the dark parlours of Spiritualists. “It is women who discuss the front-page murders with a frantic particularity, devouring every morsel, hungry for more and more. “It is women who love horror. Shudder and cling and cry – and come back for more.”
Gladys Hall was born in New York City in 1891. After marrying portrait photographer Russell E. Ball in 1912, she began a prolific and successful writing career. Her output, under her own name and several pseudonyms, included poems, short stories, novelettes, plays and fan magazine articles. She and her husband moved to Los Angeles in 1927, where she concentrated on writing for the fan magazines. A founding member of the Hollywood Women’s Press Club, an informal luncheon group, she befriended and interviewed many of the major film stars of the 1930s. Believing that “the public want to believe in Santa Claus and the movie stars,” it was her policy not to write anything negative about actors. After the death of her husband in 1942, she returned to live in New York, from where she continued to write for fan magazines until her death on September 18, 1977. For reasons unknown, Hall seems to have taken a special interest in Bela Lugosi. She wrote four articles about him between 1929 and 1941. The depth of their relationship, or how many times they actually met, is unknown. The Gladys Hall papers, spanning the years 1918-1969, are held by the Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills.